That went over well.
In the darkness of night on a federal holiday, House Republicans voted to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics. That would have shut down independent investigations of corruption in Congress.
You could almost hear the wheels turn: Lobbyists are hot to gut regulations and steer taxpayer money into their clients’ pockets. Deal man Donald Trump will soon be running the show and does not seem averse to big federal spending. So what better time for some of us to personally grab a piece of the action? Blowing up the ethics office would clear the road.
Then – to the surprise of jaded observers – the skies opened, and down poured condemnation. Watchdog groups on the left and the right bashed the sneak attack on the ethics rules. Constituents deluged the wayward reps with angry calls. And Trump issued two tweets criticizing the Republican House members for taking up the contentious matter as their first order of business.
The sun rose the next day, and Republicans ditched the plan to kill the independent ethics panel. It was a good ending to a really bad start for the 115th Congress.
Many attribute the reversal to Trump’s disapproving tweets, and they may have moved things along. But the power of an aroused electorate is what truly nixed the game plan.
The public blowback to the offending individuals was impressive. But even more significant were the demands on social media to know how the representatives had voted. That implies consequences for actions.
Newspapers of yore would routinely print the rundown of who in Congress voted “yea” and who “nay” on important pieces of legislation. Reputable online news sources can now offer such information and make it easily searchable.
Trump is an undisputed master at assessing what gets through to ordinary people. Robert Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who orchestrated the secretive assault on the ethics office, is not a master. Goodlatte responded to the criticism by predictably blaming the media. His reward was such tweets as, “You are a traitor to the Constitution you swore to uphold.” That’s not the sort of thing a right-winger wants to hear.
Now, it’s premature to assume from the recent Trump tweets that the incoming president is serious about “draining the swamp” of Washington corruption. A two-cent analysis of Trump’s personality might conclude that he wants to be top alligator – that he considers attempts by the salamanders in the hinterlands to get in on the deals to be presumptuous.
Another consideration: When awkward questions inevitably arise about Trump’s conflicts of interest involving his family business, he can point to the tweets as evidence of his passion for clean government. And chances are good that the right-wingers he left out to dry won’t exact revenge. They’re too scared.
Besides, this move by Goodlatte and friends was not only brazen but also awesomely stupid. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham put it succinctly when he told Fox News Radio, “It’s the dumbest fricking thing I’ve ever heard.”
Bear in mind that the run at the ethics office followed an earlier unsuccessful effort to restore funding of pet projects (also known as pork), a controversial practice that had been banned. House Speaker Paul Ryan nipped that suicide raid in the bud, though he did promise to bring it up later this year. Something tells us he may not.
Trump had managed to corral anger against Republicans, as well as Democrats. Many voted for him fully aware of his checkered business conduct. Perhaps, just perhaps, they’ll rise up when Trump tries to pull a fast one. There’s now more reason to hope.
Froma Harrop is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.
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